Exploring the Significance of the Chinese New Year

By: Payton Hefright

When mentioned, the words “Chinese New Year” probably bring images of red lanterns, signs, and possibly dragons to the minds of most Americans. But what do these visuals mean? Why is the New Year celebrated, and why is it so red?

According to www.chinahighlights.com, the three day holiday known as the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, has been celebrated for over 3,000 years, and many of the traditions associated with the holiday are still upheld. As with a Western Christmas, preparations for this holiday can begin a month beforehand. In anticipation of the festival, rituals meant to ensure luck for the New Year, such as cleaning, painting doorways, and on the eve of the celebration, a large meal, are followed. A vital aspect of the yearly festival is the color red – most decorations of the festival are red, such as signs and lanterns, and red envelopes holding money are given away by married couples. The color is associated with happiness and luck.

On the day of the festival, traditional foods eaten include fish, spring rolls, dumplings, and rice cakes. The most common and widespread activities on the three days of the holiday are setting off fireworks, visiting friends and family, and exchanging gifts, but, most of all, the holiday is about forgiving grudges and relaxing. A large focus of the holiday is ensuring luck for the New Year, and, along with the lucky traditions, there comes plenty of unlucky ones that should be avoided on the days of the Spring Festival. Usual chores and tasks, such as sweeping, washing hair, or needle work are regarded as bad luck, along with wearing black and white (the colors of death) and saying negative words. Accidents that can result in crying, broken objects, or hospital visits are also seen as bad omens in China at the start of the New Year.

An intriguing and stunning tradition of the festival is the dragon dance, which occurs during the parade. The dance is performed in a large dragon body made out of wood or cloth, and traditionally performed to worship ancestors and pray for rain. In modern times, it is primarily for entertainment. One interesting fact about the dragon body is that odd numbers of joints are considered luckier.

The celebration of the Chinese New Year dates back to 1600-1046 BC, and the legend of its origin says that a beast called Nian, or “Year,” would come out and attack people on the eve of the New Year, and, because it was afraid of the color red and loud noises, a large celebration involving fireworks and red is annually held.

2019 is the year of the pig, the twelfth animal in line of the Chinese Zodiacs. But, while he may be last, he is certainly not least. The pig symbolizes positive qualities such as wealth and fortune, and according to http://www.chinesenewyear.net’s profile on this chubby, fortune bringing zodiac, the pig works hard, but plays harder, and is full of personality.

Many Americans are quite familiar with the Chinese New Year, although it’s not usually celebrated by most. To see how familiar high school students in America are with details of China’s largest holiday, The Squire asked senior Sam Gourley if she knew what this year’s Zodiac was. She replied that she didn’t. “The pig!” a fellow senior interjected. “I know that because of Shane Dawson,” (a YouTube personality) she claimed. A group of two freshmen and a sophomore were sat at a table when The Squire asked them if they knew what date the New Year had started this year. “Not a clue,” the sophomore replied. The two freshmen said they did not know either, but one of them mentioned that she knew it had started because she saw it on Snapchat. From these brief interviews it’s apparent that while the start of a new lunar year in China is not something commonly mentioned or known about to America’s youth, they do receive word from social media or mentions in pop culture.

How familiar are you with the Chinese New Year? Do you think the pig is a promising zodiac for 2019? Whether you approach the New Year with a positive attitude or one that’s not so optimistic, may it be one of wealth, luck, and prosperity.

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